Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Updates: 'Up in the Air' and 'Brooklyn's Finest'

There have been a couple of release date changes as of today. First off, Jason Reitman's Up in the Air has been pushed back to a December release date. It's scheduled to open in limited release on December 4th, with an expansion on the 11th, and then open wide on December 25th. As of right now, the film looks like a major Oscar contender, particularly in the Best Picture and Best Actor categories. This is Reitman's third feature-length film and the early buzz indicates that it could be his best one yet.

The next piece of news regards Antoine Fuqua's Brooklyn's Finest. The film was recently picked up by Overture Films and its looks like they are backing up the release date until Spring 2010. Ethan Hawke, who also gave an Oscar-nominated supporting performance in Fuqua's Training Day, was largely considered as a dark horse in the Best Actor category. With a cast that also includes Richard Gere and Don Cheadle, and considering Fuqua's experience in the cop genre, this is definitely one to keep your eye on.

Full Metal Jacket is a surprisingly unfocused war effort from director Stanley Kubrick that virtually falls off the map after its brilliant opening act. The story is basically divided into two halves; if you can even call the second half a story. It’s a shame that Kubrick didn’t try to drag out the first half longer because that is truly filmmaking at its finest. To see the director in such an undisciplined light is very surprising.

The movie opens with several promising recruits getting their heads shaved before they are shipped off to Parris Island to become Marines. R. Lee Ermey steals this movie with an unforgettable performance as the recruits’ drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. The two main recruits of this film are the unsocial, overweight Pvt. Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his appointed mentor Joker (Matthew Modine).

Pyle has an incredibly rough time in boot camp as Hartman continuously hammers him for his obesity and inability to socialize. However, as time goes on, Pyle’s sessions with Joker begin to pay off and he starts to gain respect from his heartless commander. The performances of Ermey and D’Onofrio are easily the two most compelling in the film. Even though Hartman shows no character arc throughout his time in the film, Ermey brings him to life with a charismatic turn that could even be considered one of the best performances from a Kubrick film. D’Onofrio is also very good, but it is his character that makes his performance so interesting. Pyle shows a great amount of change throughout his time on screen and his transformation is what makes this first half so good.

When the film delves into its latter portion, it loses an incredible amount of steam. We basically start to follow Joker in his new squad, but there is really nothing interesting that happens. While Kubrick does shoot these second half war sequences with remarkable skill, they are dragged out and repeated for so long that it is only a matter of time before this film becomes tedious and boring.

Sometimes a director can be too in love with his style and his direction, and that is exactly what happens in this film. I felt like Kubrick completely abandoned his story in the second half just so he could put his name on a couple of war sequences. These scenes have absolutely no significance or power because we know squat about these characters. It brings in mind comparison to 2009’s The Hurt Locker because although that is primarily an action film, it contains three characters that are able to access our emotions so that we actually care what happens to them on the battlefield. Kubrick doesn’t go for any character development at all in his second half, and by the time the climax rolls around at the end, it feels like a theme that has been seen dozens of times before.

It’s tough for me to say whether I can recommend this film or not. I wish Kubrick would’ve shot the boot camp portion of the film and then just called it quits. The first hour is truly a masterpiece with a memorable performance from R. Lee Ermey, but the second half is so monotonous and drawn out that it’s tough to even sit through. I have a tough time believing that this was one of the last films that Kubrick made because although his unique style is pervasive, the story is so unfocused and the second-half characters so uninteresting that it doesn’t feel like a film that was made by a veteran director.

The teaser trailer for next year's A Nightmare on Elm Street has just surfaced. Personally, I think the casting of Jackie Earle Haley was genius, especially after his gritty turn in Watchmen. I think he will give a satisfying performance in this remake, but it doesn’t look like director Samuel Bayer is trying to go too far away from the original – a decision that could make or break the movie.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Movie Review: Bright Star (2009) - 3 stars

Jane Campion's latest period piece follows the last three years of John Keats' life. It is a beautiful looking film with fine performances that are sure to be remembered come Oscar time, but there is a distance to the movie that prevents it from being as powerful as it should have been. Campion chooses to take a step back while directing this film and let the story play out naturally, but there is one problem with that: There really isn't much of a story.

The film is set in London circa 1818 and the romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) is struggling to say the least. He has virtually no income and he is forced to spend his days staring out the window and brainstorming with his partner and friend Mr. Brown (Paul Schneider). His life finds a much needed boost when he meets Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) and there is an instant attraction. But this isn't a romantic, passionate affair because Keats and Cornish cannot do much about their feelings. He has too little of an income to support himself well, let alone take care of a wife, and Brawne's parents do not seems to be thrilled with the idea of her marrying an unsuccessful man.

Nevertheless, the two seem practically inseparable. Fanny even begins to take poetry lessons from Keats because she wants to understand his art. She wants to know what goes around inside his mind. This is much to the fury of Brown, who sees Fanny as not only a distraction to their work, but possibly as someone that could threaten his relationship with Mr. Keats. In other words, Brawne and Keats embark on a forbidden and secretive relationship, the likes of which we have seen hundreds of times before.

The performances in this film are what make Bright Star worth watching. Schneider is solid in his supporting role as the unstable Brown, but this film really belongs to Whishaw and Cornish. They are wonderful together and there is something remarkably compelling about both of these performances. This is a story that develops very slowly and these engaging actors help keep the film moving along at a somewhat decent pace.

Despite these terrific performances, Campion's film is unable to achieve any real emotional power. The movie feels very lifeless at times and the story even seems unfocused. Is it more about the romance or the poetry? This film seems to try and accomplish both, but it comes up short in the two areas. Poetry and language are very tough things to make interesting on film and while Campion's effort is exceptional, I don't feel like I appreciate Keats' writing any more than I did walking into the theater.

While I certainly don't feel this film is worthy of the Oscar nominations it is probably going to get, it is still a piece that is worth seeing. The performances of Whishaw and Cornish are excellent and they keep the film from being entirely boring. These are the types of movies that usually get on my nerves come January because they steal nominations from more worthy films. Last year's thief was The Reader, and Bright Star looks like it could end up in a similar situation. I do think Cornish and Whishaw both deserve consideration in their respective categories, but as an overall film, I wish the Academy would just take it for what it is: a slightly above average romantic drama.

With some recent developments this week, I have decided to update my Oscar predictions. First off is the big news that Sony Pictures Classics has decided to move Get Low to 2010. This is a shocking revelation after this film opened up to overwhelmingly positive reception after it premiered at TIFF, and Robert Duvall was certainly looking like a strong contender in the Best Actor race.

The next piece of news is that I saw Bright Star today. My review will be up shortly, but to sum up my opinions very quickly, it was a solid film with two great lead performances. In my opinion, the film should only be recognized for its performances, but I feel like this is the type of film that the Academy would love to throw nominations towards.
With that being said, lets jump into the updated charts...

Best Picture:

1. Invictus
2. Precious based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire
3. Up in the Air
4. Nine
5. An Education
6. The Hurt Locker
7. Up
8. Bright Star
9. A Serious Man
10. The Lovely Bones
11. Amelia
12. Avatar
13. The Road
14. A Single Man
15. The Informant!

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

1. Morgan Freeman, Invictus
2. George Clooney, Up in the Air
3. Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

4. Ben Whishaw, Bright Star
5. Matt Damon, The Informant!
6. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
7. Viggo Mortensen, The Road
8. Colin Firth, A Single Man
9. Robert De Niro, Everybody's Fine
10. Sam Rockwell, Moon

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

1. Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
2. Alfred Molina, An Education
3. Matt Damon, Invictus
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
5. Paul Schneider, Bright Star
6. Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker

7. Richard Gere, Amelia
8. Tobey Maguire, Brothers
9. Richard Kind, A Serious Man

10. Richard Gere, Amelia

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

1. Carey Mulligan, An Education
2. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
3. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
4. Hilary Swank, Amelia
5. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star
6. Penélope Cruz, Broken Embraces
7. Michelle Monaghan, Trucker
8. Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
9. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist
10. Natalie Portman, Brothers

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

1. Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
2. Marion Cotillard, Nine
3. Judi Dench, Nine
4. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
5. Penélope Cruz, Nine
6. Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones
7. Mariah Carey, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
8. Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies
9. Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air

10. Julianne Moore, A Single Man

Best Director:

1. Lee Daniels, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
2. Clint Eastwood, Invictus
3. James Cameron, Avatar
4. Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
5. Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
6. Rob Marshall, Nine
7. Jane Campion, Bright Star
8. Peter Jackson, The Lovely Bones
9. Lone Scherfig, An Education
10. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, A Serious Man

Best Adapted Screenplay:

1. Damien Paul, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
2. Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
3. Anthony Peckham, Invictus
4. Nick Hornby, An Education
5. Anthony Minghella & Michael Tolkin, Nine
6. Ronald Bass, Amelia
7. Scott Z. Burns, The Informant!
8. Joe Penhall, The Road
9. Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, & Fran Walsh, The Lovely Bones
10. Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia

Best Original Screenplay:

1. Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
2. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, A Serious Man
3. Bob Peterson, Up
4. Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, 500 Days of Summer
5. Jane Campion, Bright Star
6. Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
7. James Cameron, Avatar
8. Pedro Almodóvar, Broken Embraces
9. Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tetchell, District 9
10. Judd Apatow, Funny People

Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of Anthony Burgess’ celebrated 1962 novel is a visually striking, but uneven film that is ultimately successful because of Malcolm McDowell’s memorable lead performance. The futuristic society we are brought into is utterly captivating, and the synthesized soundtrack also plays a big part in transporting the audience into Kubrick’s world. The movie seems to live and die by Kubrick’s hectic directorial style and, fortunately, the risks that are taken pay off for the majority of the film, but the lead performance is the one thing that is consistently captivating throughout the entire piece.

McDowell plays Alex DeLarge, a teenage psychopath who, along with his other “droogs”, spend the majority of their nights physically and sexually abusing the people in the film's futuristic Britain society. When he isn’t out with his gang, Alex dedicates his time to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. His obsession for Beethoven is basically the only thing we learn about him throughout the course of the film. We do not get any background information about why Alex does what he does, but just like Heath Ledger’s Joker, the lack of character background doesn’t diminish the character’s effectiveness.

Kubrick is very particular in this film about not only creating an exhilarating visual experience, but also creating a movie that raises various thematic questions. As the story evolves, we begin to question whether Alex is something more than just a teenage freak. Is this guy simply a victim of his surroundings? The film’s final scenes question whether a corrupt society has the right to demand incorruptible inhabitants. These are certainly questions with no easy answers, but will nevertheless have audiences thinking about them long after the credits roll.

The ultimate thing that holds this film back is really the director’s decision to be overly artistic. If you look at the film as a whole, there is basically only enough story and plot development for about a 90 minute film. But Kubrick’s excessively talkative script does slow down the pace at various points throughout the film, and ultimately extends the running time to well over two hours. There is some merit to his extended dialogue because Burgess’ novel was one about language as much as it was about its themes; however, on screen, there are certain scenes throughout the film that are much longer than they need to be. These drawn-out sequences don’t have enough flow and style to keep us entertained throughout.

However, like I said before, Kubrick was extremely lucky to get this good of a lead performance. It is quite possible that this film could have failed drastically if it didn’t have a lead actor with the skill and confidence of Malcolm McDowell. In fact, many people might be surprised to learn that A Clockwork Orange was Stanley Kubrick’s fastest shot film. Considering the director’s perfectionist tendencies, McDowell must have been right on from the start in order to make this a quick shoot for Kubrick.

I am also stunned at the fact that McDowell did not receive an Oscar nomination for his performance. Taking into account the controversy that surrounds this film, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the entire movie got snubbed as a whole, but bearing in mind that Kubrick received nominations for Picture, Director, and Screenplay, I can’t seem to figure out why the Academy wouldn’t want to recognize McDowell’s work.

All in all, this film is a risk/reward experience. It’s impossible to make a film this controversial without taking substantial risks and Kubrick certainly does not shy away from his subject matter. By attacking this film without holding anything back, the director is sure to turn off a lot of viewers, but for those who have the strength to stick with this movie from start to finish, they will have a remarkably original experience highlighted by a career-defining performance from Malcolm McDowell.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Movie Review: The Hangover (2009) - 2 stars

The Hangover is a film that, since its release back in June, has become the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all-time. It's not an overwhelmingly powerful statistic, but it does show how desperate audiences across the country (and the world) were for raunchy, mindless Friday night comedy. And that's exactly what The Hangover is.

The movie starts off on a relatively strong note in terms of being both funny and effective in setting up its premise. Although it might not be the most original idea in the world, the story has enough potential with its performers to be a funny movie; but it just doesn’t turn out that way. Doug (Justin Bartha) is engaged to Tracy and his bunch of friends take him to Las Vegas to throw him a bachelor party. The group of friends includes Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and his future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

The first night in Vegas is funny enough. Galifianakis has a particularly funny scene on the rooftop of Caesars Palace and the other characters are introduced well also. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie are between Ed Helms and Rachael Harris, who plays Stu's dysfunctional girlfriend Melissa.

Once the group wakes up with their major hangover in the morning, the movie becomes conventional and boring. There are a variety of things in their hotel room, and it seems as if these items were picked from a hat while they were writing the screenplay. The story really isn't as clever as it thinks it is. It seems to throw out a million jokes per minute and hope that half of them work. Even if the some of the jokes are good enough to earn a laugh, it feels as if they are ten minutes apart each time. The jokes are thrown out with no consistency and no direction. It is not disciplined writing.

The performances in the film are good enough to warrant a better script. It seemed to me that Bradley Cooper's character got the short end of the stick in terms of funny lines, but his performance is still watchable. Ed Helms, who is absolutely hilarious on The Office, is perfectly cast for his role and delivers a lot of laughs here. And Zach Galifianakis puts his name on the map as one of the more promising comedic performers we have seen this year. The variety of other cameos includes meaningless characters played by Heather Graham, the very funny Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Riggle, Bryan Callen, and Ken Jeong. It seems as if the writers created a myriad of characters that only had about one good joke each. I feel sorry for the actors that were used for the sole purpose of one laugh and then they seem to disappear.
And I forgot to mention that Mike Tyson makes an appearance. I'm sure about zero percent of the audience has run into Iron Mike during their bachelor parties, so why the audience seems to connect with this mindless humor baffles me.

If you are looking for a stupid movie to watch after a long week at work, maybe give this one a shot. It might make you laugh enough to keep you satisfied. But for those looking for a smart comedy with sharp writing and direction will be sorely disappointed here. Director Todd Phillips takes a step back after Old School with this film. On the other hand, there is already The Hangover 2 scheduled for a 2011 release so hopefully they can improve on their mistakes because there are enough pieces here to create an enjoyable film.

Boys Don't Cry is a film that doesn't try to dress up or clean up its subject matter. It's a brutal, realistic, blistering look at the tragic life of transsexual Brandon Teena. Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of Teena, and she absolutely deserved it. In only a couple weeks of this person's life, Swank humanizes a character that is not a sick psychopath like some people in the film think, but rather a human being trying to live the life they were meant to live.

The film opens with Brandon receiving a slick new haircut and heading out to a local bar to converse with the locals as a man. It is obvious right off the bat how good this performance really is. All of Swank's subtle gestures carry so much meaning that we are overwhelmed with emotion for this lead character. Brandon is a person looking for a new direction in life and every time we look into his eyes, we realize how much he wants it.

Brandon's life takes a twist when he beings to fall in love with a new friend he meets named Lana (Chloë Sevigny). Their attraction soon becomes a love affair, much to the dismay of John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III), who both suspect that something isn’t quite right with Brandon.

The ensemble in the film is exceptional. Sevigny, who earned an Oscar nomination for her work, is excellent as Lana. She provides the perfect counterpart for Swank, and their romance feels genuine and passionate. However, outside of Swank, I really think Peter Sarsgaard's performance is the best work in the film. It is a pitch-perfect performance of a disturbed, repulsive man that has very little sense of right and wrong. It is a character, like Swank's, that has many layers to it and we get a sense for all of them.

Writer/director Kimberly Peirce has created a profound achievement with this film. It has a tragic love story at its heart, but it also carries with it a larger message. The love story reminded me a lot of the conflict from Brokeback Mountain because the two leads are in a truly compassionate affair, but their surroundings just will not allow their chemistry to blossom. It’s a romance that is made all the more tragic because it can never reach its peak.

This is a film that was made for only $2 million, and even after all of the Oscar buzz it received back in 2000, the movie has still not been seen by large masses of audiences. It is a very tough film to watch, but it is one that deserves to be seen. Its foundation is a powerful story that carries the burden of representing thousands of the other hate crimes that are committed each year. Boys Don't Cry is certainly not a film I would recommend to someone who isn't prepared for the subject matter. It is a movie that truly requires a mature audience as it tackles sexual, social, emotional, and physical issues that are all still prevalent in American society today.

Steven Soderbergh's latest film The Informant! is one of those rare movies that successfully mixes several different genres. There are moments of comedy, suspense, and drama as Soderbergh prefers to make irony and deadpan comedy out of his subject matter rather than all-out dramatize it. I also found myself enjoying the film more and more as it went along. The first twenty minutes felt a little bland and, at the beginning, I didn't quite understand the frequent Matt Damon voice-over. But, as we learn more and more about Damon's complex character, we start to understand all of the pieces that are presented to us, and this becomes a truly enjoyable film.

Mark Whitacre, brought to life by Damon's terrific performance, is a promising young executive working at the corrupt company Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) located in Decatur, IL. At the beginning of the film, a virus has infiltrated ADM causing them to lose millions of dollars each month. Whitacre then comes to the realization that there is a mole inside the company secretly working for a foreign competitor.

As a result, the FBI decide to plant a wire in Whitacre's phone lines to try and find out who this mole is. The bureau dispatches agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) to Whitacre's home to plant the bug. At his wife's suggestion, Mark then confesses the true fraud of his company. He explains that several ADM executives, including himself, have been holding meetings with various competitors for the sole purpose of fixing the price of lysine. This is not something Mark is proud of, but it is very tough for him to admit because he knows the risks of sacrificing his future at the company.

After this revelation, our informant is born. Agent Shepard, along with agent Robert Herndon (Joel McHale), convince Whitacre to wear a wire and become an undercover agent for the FBI. Mark's life is changed forever as he is forced to live a double-life, never knowing to who he can or cannot tell the truth. By the end of the movie, Whitacre ends up with over two hundred tapes, and he is eager to prosecute his bosses and become the CEO of ADM.

Matt Damon puts himself on the short list for an Oscar nomination with his performance. He does such a terrific job of humanizing the main character, while also staying funny enough to be consistent with Soderbergh's tone. This is easier said than done as Whitacre is one of the more complex characters to be seen so far this year. By the end of the film, it is tough to decide whether we should feel sorry for him or whether he deserved what he got.

Whitacre's wife in the film is played by Melanie Lynskey, who many might recognize as Rose from CBS's Two and a Half Men. She does a fine job in her light role as a wife who might believe in her husband a little bit too much. The score by Marvin Hamlisch is sure to turn off many, but it certainly feels right for the movie.

I found myself very surprised at how much I liked this film by the time it was over. It is a movie that becomes stronger as it goes along, and that is really an admirable quality. It makes the experience very rewarding because with every new thing we learn about our main character, we are forced to re-evaluate our feelings for him and decide whether or not he truly deserves the sympathy he has gained from us.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Dark Knight: MPAA Mystery

Ever since I first saw The Dark Knight back in July 2008, there has been one question I've had about the film that has stuck in my mind: Would it have been a different film if it was rated R?

It is obviously a blockbuster film, and I'm sure Warner Bros. wanted a PG-13 film all the way. However, that being said, Nolan had to have had some restrictions while writing and shooting this film to keep it at a PG-13 level. A lot of people have said this is a film that should have warranted an R rating, and it does come very close, but I am not asking whether or not the film warranted the correct rating. I'm wondering whether it would've been a different film if Nolan wrote this thing thinking it was going to be an R-rated movie.

The Dark Knight is a film that has been praised for transcending the superhero genre. It is arguably, along with Watchmen I would say, the darkest, grittiest superhero movie ever made, and for Chris Nolan to create such a memorable atmosphere with PG-13 limitations makes his work even more admirable.

Another thing that has been on virtually everyone's list of things that were great in the film is the performance of Heath Ledger. As Richard Roeper puts it, "The late Heath Ledger plays [The Joker] like the demented offspring of Alex from 'A Clockwork Orange'". That is really saying something about how disturbing of a character Ledger created. We all know that Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is one of the most controversial films ever made, and for Ledger's work to be compared to McDowell's legendary performance shows how much they stretched that PG-13 rating. But, how much more disturbing could The Joker have been with an R-rating? Think about how much more they could've possibly done. One of the things about Ledger's villain is that the audience actually liked seeing him on screen because the performance was so entertaining. With an R-rating, Ledger and Nolan could've gone even further and created an incredibly repulsive villain. Would that have been better or worse?
Another thing I thought about was the visual appearance of Harvey Dent after he transforms into Two-Face. It was a disturbing sight, but anyone who has seen Let the Right One In knows how much more disturbing a deformed face could possibly look. 

These are some of my thoughts, and I think it's an intriguing topic to consider. Would the movie have gotten more Academy Awards consideration if it were an R-rated film, and not a summer blockbuster? Possibly. Would Ledger have created an even more memorable character if there were less boundaries? Possibly. And I'm sure there had to have been ideas that Nolan left out because he had to keep it PG-13 appropriate.

What do you readers think? Would an R-rated The Dark Knight have been better or worse? Or would it not have mattered? Please weigh in with your thoughts below.

Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July is a deeply emotional and disturbing film that is surely one of his finest works ever. He earned a Best Director Oscar for directing this gut-wrenching true story of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Kovic is played by Tom Cruise is what is easily his most accomplished role to date. It is through Cruise’s performance that this film becomes an engrossing look at the effects of war.

The movie’s opening sequences are dedicated to acquainting the audience with our hero’s small-town lifestyle. He grows up in a strict Catholic household where he learns the traits of nationalism and religious pride that have been the code of his parents’ lives. In fact, his father is a veteran himself, but strangely enough, it is his mother that is encouraging war more than him.

Ron is a hard-working student and a star wrestler for the high school team of Massapequa, New York. He has strong feelings for a lifelong friend named Donna (Kyra Sedgwick), but he is a little bit too shy to do much about them. When a Marine recruiter, played superbly in this scene by Tom Berenger, visits the high school, Ron is determined to become a Marine. He even tells his parents that he is willing to die for his country. For a high school kid to say something like that, he’s got to have a lot a character, and Kovic certainly does.

However, his tour of duty doesn’t go too well. There are a series of gritty, realistic, and disoriented battle scenes that show the horror and confusion that these soldiers face in battle. It is during these sequences that our hero is shot twice, once in the foot and once in the chest. After being rescued, Ron learns that he is paralyzed from the mid-chest down, and this sets the stage for the grueling scenes at Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital. These are some of the most disturbing scenes I have seen in a long time, but they are perfectly executed. We learn even more of Kovic’s determination as he convinces himself he will walk again. It is through this determination that Ron tries to use crutches and braces more and more every day to hopefully lead to a brighter future. Unfortunately, he faces some dire setbacks that almost cost him his leg.

The performances in this film are exceptional. Willem Dafoe has a small, but meaty role as another paralyzed veteran that Kovic eventually meets, and Frank Whaley also turns in a strong performance as a long time friend. However, this is clearly Cruise’s film. It is a complete showcase for the actor and every moment feels so real and genuine. He plays the character with such raw emotion that I can’t help but believe the real Ron Kovic was astonished at how true the performance turned out.

The most emotional scenes in the movie are when Kovic first returns home. It is an incredibly powerful and alarming experience to watch this warrior return home to his neighborhood in a wheelchair. Ron makes it clear that he doesn’t want his family’s pity, but he can’t help looking into their eyes and seeing how devastated they are. His parents in the film are played by Raymond J. Barry and Caroline Kava, and they are brilliant in these scenes, putting up an incredible effort to match Cruise’s on-screen magic.

In spite of all the greatness, it is in these particular scenes that the film finds its flaw. It’s not that they aren’t masterfully executed; it’s just the fact that they appear too early in the film. Kovic’s return home was undoubtedly the emotional high point of the film for me, but it comes only an hour into this 145 minute movie. After I watched these scenes, nothing else in the film had as great of an effect on me as it should have because it just couldn’t compare to the power of Ron’s return.

It is so tough for me to recommend this film simply because it is such an emotional journey that is, more often than not, quite depressing. But, if you feel like you can stomach another tragic war film, then this is definitely one that’s worth checking out. Stone has proven himself one of the more prominent political voices in cinema over the past twenty or thirty years, and his views are present throughout this film. Tom Cruise’s performance rivals anything that was put on screen in the late ‘80s, and this is a remarkable story that needs to be heard.

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